Small Hotels, Plenty Of Empty Holiday Rooms

We're just days away from New Year's festivities and the big Sugar Bowl game in New Orleans, and some coast hotels are trying to figure out what to do about a lot of empty rooms. According to the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, about 50 percent of the coast's 11,000 hotel rooms are not booked for the upcoming holiday weekend.

That's especially true among properties not associated with casinos. Hotel manager Cheryl Henry says she isn't getting as many calls about reservations as she'd like. She's hoping last minute guests will fill the Ramada Limited in Biloxi.

"We are looking to book up," said Henry. "We have seen several walk-ins lately, but at this time we're about half full."

Linda Hornsby of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association says the Ramada Limited is fortunate.

"There's a lot of them that's not even half full," Hornsby said. "Most, if not all of the independents or the non-casino hotels have dropped their minimum stays and are just opting for 'If I can get one night of it.' There's lots of availability."

As an incentive to lure in Sugar Bowl bound guests, Hornsby says this week the Association put together a transportation package. For a reasonable price, college football fans can stay here, then take a bus to New Orleans and back.

"It can't hurt," she said. "I mean, the more we offer, the easier we make it for people to stay here, the better for everybody. So it certainly can't hurt. And yes, I think that may be what tips them over to staying here."

For now, using incentives to rent rooms could be a plus, however some in the industry say in the long term the small hotels need more advertising.

Cheryl Henry believes people need to know "that there are other places here on the coast open to go to, and just letting people know that we are back up and running."

The Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association plans to put together room and transportation packages for the Bowl Championship Series title game in New Orleans on January 7th.